The Rise of RPG PDFs

It’s been a very long time since I last bought a pen and paper RPG book. It’s been well over two years since I last played in an RPG game at all. It’s been so long that I don’t even remember where my whisky tin full of dice is, although I know my collection of RPG books is safely buried in a mound of boxes somewhere in my mum’s house.

It’s a bit depressing – even after I’ve effectively abandoned the hobby – to read about how eReaders and tablets have taken over from giant hardback tomes.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad I bought a Kindle and I found my iPad invaluable when I was still gaming, but I found that neither device could replace my RPG books. My Kindle hasn’t even come close to replacing any type of book in my life thanks to a nasty habit of buying the same book in both hardback and digital forms.

RPG books are a particularly special case though. There is something about the scent of the paper, the glossy illustrations and the crack and snap of the pages that is an essential part of the role playing experience. It’s a particular joy when someone has a newly released book which is getting handed round a group or when you find an old, out of print game in a FLGS or on eBay.

There are also advantages to paper books over their digital equivalents. It’s not unusual for game masters to ban players from reading or referring to particular books to prevent cheating, reading ahead in stories or rules lawyering. If the source books are 300 pages of glossy A4, you can’t really hide them at the table. With a Kindle or an iPad, you could be reading anything at the table.

On the other hand  PDF game books are a massive benefit to independent game designers and small publishing houses because they cut out the overheads and the middlemen, allowing direct sales to fans. Which is why they are here to stay.

RPG Blogger’s Carnival: Going Too Far

RPGBlogCarnivalLogoWhere are the ethical limits in Role-Playing?

There are different challenges in different games. In D&D, Vampires are a creature of evil, nicely clean cut and lined up for your party to slaughter without a second thought. On the other hand, Vampire: The Requiem and Vampire: The Masquerade set you up as the vampire, having to take into account the required for frequent doses of fresh, human blood, so even if you’re character is good, you still have to engage in a hunt for humans and a rather horrible act which has been compared to a variety of other morally reprehensible crimes.

Some games, such as the Warhammer roleplaying games even go so far as to encourage what we would regard as immoral behaviour. In WFRP, in the Human Empire, Elves are not allowed to enter buildings and must be chained up outside. Dark Heresy goes one step further, with all Alien races deemed heretical and subject to summery execution.

So given this context, where do you just turn round and say no?

Of course, at the extreme end of the spectrum there are a variety of games that no right-minded gamer would every touch. F.A.T.A.L. and Racial Holy War are two of the more notorious example – both glorifying a very real-world racial hatred against various groups. F.A.T.A.L., of course, takes this right up to 11, with the rules encouraging rape and demonstrating a lack of taste, common-sense and general human decency.

Very far over the acceptable line indeed, but then not at all representative of your average gamer.

So where is the line for the average gamer, to wit, Me?

Well, I’ve done some pretty bad things in character.

One of my favourite gaming stories is the complete and utter carnage that half my Dark Heresy group got caught up in a one-shot story. The plot involved a Death Cult on a graveyard planet and remains the only time I’ve ever seen a Party actively try and kill it’s-self. The short version is, through the use of disguises made from the skin of dead Imperial Guard, we infiltrated the Cult, didn’t realise when we should probably have stopped and opened fire and ended up conducting a Demonic summoning. I ended up killing a pregnant women as a sacrifice.

I’m not terribly proud of that, even though on of my colleagues promptly scarified me in return for immortality or some such. I even rolled a dice to decide to go through with it or not, because while I thought my character would be happy with it, I wasn’t. Would I do it again? Probably not, because I admit that was over my personal line and I didn’t feel comfortable doing it.

The second time that I know I went too far was shooting a Kobold pup. This was during Castles & Crusades, in a world where we were religiously mandated to kill all evil creatures. The Cleric even got bonus XP in an earlier session for a stunning in-character tirade laying out exactly why evil creatures couldn’t be redeemed.

To be clear, several people did say that they weren’t comfortable with the pups being introduced (this was in an ‘official’ module as well, not the product of a particularly sadistic GM’s mind). I also roleplayed a loss of faith after that, although not particularly well.

So, yeah, where do I think the moral lines are in a roleplaying situation?

Killing kids of any type is right out. It’s not smart, it’s not clever, it’s not funny, no matter how annoying the pint-sized MacGuffin the GM’s saddled you with is.

Anything relating to sex is out. I’ve heard of people introducing rape as a plot element, in particular in World of Darkness, but it’s not something I’d be comfortable dealing with.

In-game racism varies from game to game. It can be a good way to generate friction or provide plot. It’s still not something I feel that comfortable with, but backstory and motivation make a world of difference. Any game where I was asked to hate on a specific real world group or a fantasy group without motivation would be out.

Murder, theft, pillaging, unleashing demonic hoards, destroying planets, killing PCs: No problem with any of that. That’s just good old fashioned fun.

This post isn’t really what I was expecting it to be, although it has given me quite a lot of things to think about. I do like to play my own values in some games, which is why my brand new Rogue Trader character is a heretic, an idealist and a renegade. Maybe this is a bad thing, maybe I should be trying to roleplay outside of my moral comfort zone. But then again, if I feel bad after roleplaying a situation I’m not comfortable with, then eventually I’m going to stop wanting to roleplay.

RPG Blog Carnival – Mistakes, I’ve Made A Few

RPGBlogCarnivalLogoThis month’s RPG Carnival, hosted by Campaign Mastery is about mistakes made during role-play.

I’d be the first to admit that there are a few flaws in my roleplay. The one which I’m currently trying to eliminate is the use of out-of-character knowledge and out-of-character deductions. I’ll illustrate this with an example.

The last mission in the Dark Heresy campaign I was playing was set on a Chaos-riddled space-ship hulk, buried on a war-torn planet. My character was a tech-priest, the only class that is more then vaguely competent (read “has better then 45% success rate on rolls”) when it comes to dealing with technology.

So far so good. A tech-priest should be right at home on a spaceship – except this is the 40K Universe, where nothing is ever that simple.

Drawing upon everything I knew about sci-fi and Warhammer, I petitioned my party to destroy the ship. In order to do this, I suggested we find the engine core and perform some rites of cleansing to the Omnissiah (ie Press the self-destruct button).

That would have been my big mistake – my tech-priest was born and raised on an Imperial planet. There was no way he could have the knowledge to destroy a millennia old spaceship given the WH40K universe. During the next session, the GM turned round and told me that there is no way I’d have had that knowledge (after he’d dropped heavy hints to make the same point). Not a major problem as things turned out, but I really was aware that I’d used too much Star Trek fanboy knowledge as soon as I’d voiced the idea.

The correct way to play it for the character would have been to come up with some bluster about the Omnissiah showing us the path and trying to hide my lack of knowledge.

The positive side of this is that at least I’m aware that I’m doing it. Self-awareness helps me work on better characterisation and means I stop and think more before I take a character action. Hopefully in posts to come I’ll be able to look back and laugh at the silly mistakes I was making.